Excerpt from Most Eligible Bachelor
*This is an Advance Reader Excerpt, so a few things may differ from the final version*
All is fair in love and war.
Sitting at her desk in the spacious office she shared with twelve others, Chantelle Sah typed out those words, the perfect title to her piece for the April edition of Odopa magazine. The cursor blinked on the laptop screen as if in celebration of another job well done. She was within her submission deadline.
A good thing, since she still had the feature story for April on her plate—an interview with construction tycoon and notorious playboy, Lord McKenzie. She snickered at the oddity of the name. What kind of parents named their kid Lord?
None of her business. Her job consisted of conducting the interview and writing her piece. God knew she couldn’t afford to have her feature swiped from under her feet. Again.
After two years of building a solid reputation with her lifestyle column, she’d pestered her editor for a chance to do a feature. He’d given her that opportunity a few months ago, and she’d blown it. Somehow her story had leaked out to their number one competitor, Celeb magazine, leaving her scrambling for a back-up. For the first time ever, Celeb had sold more copies than Odopa. And it had been her fault.
“Hey.” The voice of her colleague, Dufie Swaniker, reeled her back from her momentary drift. “Busy?”
Chantelle sat back with a sigh. “I’m about to call his Lordship.”
Dufie clutched her chest in a dramatic fashion. “Oh, I can just feel your pain.”
“I swear. Randy’s doing this just to punish me for the Celeb incident.”
“Aw, come on. He’s doing you a favour. Do you know how many writers would kill for an interview with Ghana’s most eligible bachelor?”
A snort of laughter slipped past her lips. “Most eligible bachelor, my ass.”
She winced. Maybe that was harsh. After all, she hadn’t even met the guy. It wasn’t exactly his fault he looked like God’s best work of creation, or that women didn’t let him forget it, even if by some miracle he wanted to. She humphed. As if.
“He’s probably as shallow as he is good-looking.” Add that to his ego-boosting name, and she had one pain-in-the-ass interview on her hands.
“You really have it in for this guy, don’t you?” Dufie chuckled. “Listen, a group of us single ladies are going out for drinks tonight. Do you want to go?”
She became quiet. Her gaze flickered over the cupid spin-danglers hanging from the ceiling and the floral bouquets and greeting cards adorning the rich mahogany workspaces. All around them, the office hummed with Valentine’s Day buzz and animated banter about romantic dates later in the evening. They all reminded her she’d been happy once, hopelessly in love. How had it all gone wrong?
She shoved those thoughts aside, focusing her attention on her friend. “No, I think I’ll just go home and have a quiet evening.”
Dufie folded her arms, perching herself at the edge of the desk. “Chantelle, he’s been gone four years.”
She didn’t answer, and the ensuing silence stretched between them for a beat.
“I’m sorry for bringing it up. I know what you went through losing Martin so tragically, and then to find out—” She stopped, as if realising she’d gone off on a tangent.
“It’s all right, Dufie. You can say it.” The part that had cut her deepest. “He was with another woman.”
She released a jagged breath, stunned to discover those words hadn’t been as hard to utter as she’d expected. The pain and anger still simmered somewhere inside, but, for the first time, she didn’t feel their weight crashing down on her. Maybe time did heal all wounds; or perhaps, she’d finally perfected her ability to numb her heart.
“Martin was a jerk for breaking your heart, but you can’t hole up at home every Valentine’s Day because of what happened.”
“That’s not what I’m doing. I’m exhausted, and it’s only Wednesday. I need to unwind.” Liar.
Truth be told, she didn’t want to go out tonight, didn’t want to hear love songs or see happy couples. It would fill her with longing for the warm embrace of a lover, the intimacy a woman shared with a man, the heated you’re-the-only-one-for-me look. Going out on Valentine’s Day would expose her to an overdose of things she couldn’t allow herself to have, because she didn’t know if she’d ever be ready to risk her heart again.
She gave herself a mental shake, bringing her mind back to the present in time to catch Dufie’s response.
“Well, you have three whole hours until close of day to reconsider. Let me know if you do.”
She nodded, even though she didn’t intend to change her mind. “I will. Thanks.”
With a shrug, her colleague stood and sashayed off to her own desk. Alone again, she decided to make the call to Lord McKenzie. But not here, she thought, watching two other colleagues gushing about an e-card one had received. Aside from a desire for privacy, she needed to escape before she got any more unsolicited invitations to go out tonight.
Grabbing a pencil and notepad, she headed out and found one of their small meeting rooms. Just as she sat at the round table, the door opened, and her editor peered in.
“Ah, there you are.” He entered and shut the door. “How are we doing with Mckenzie’s story?”
She frowned. Randy didn’t usually hound his writers, especially when they weren’t at risk of missing the submission deadline.
“I’m about to call him. That’s why I slipped in here.” She noted the somewhat anxious look on Randy’s face. “Is everything all right?”
“I just heard Celeb is also after McKenzie.”
The words hit her like a kick in the belly, and a band of tension wound tight around her chest. Celeb had started a teaser campaign for their tenth anniversary celebrations, which they were kicking off in June. No details had yet been released. It seemed they were keeping a tight lid on it; which could only imply one thing. They didn’t have a go from McKenzie, or they would have started advance publicity for the issue.
Meaning her interview just became number one priority.
“The good news is we want him for April.”
Despite her attempt at putting a positive spin on things, tension continued to coil around her insides. Celeb, known for their guerrilla tactics, would move theirs up in a heartbeat if they caught wind of her piece.
“Do I have to remind you why you need to get to him before Celeb does?”
She swallowed, shaking her head.
And then he left.
She took in a deep breath to calm her nerves. That was a threat if she ever heard one. With her annual appraisal coming up in a few months, she couldn’t afford to lose this story. Especially not to Celeb. That would be just too embarrassing, not to mention how it would affect her prospects of a promotion in the future. Hopefully, Lord McKenzie wouldn’t make her jump through hoops before granting her the interview.
She retrieved the sticky note she’d received from Randy and unfolded it to reveal a cell phone number. She punched the number into her phone and hit send. While it rang, she idly wondered about Lord McKenzie’s middle name, and what on earth his girlfriend called him. Correction, girlfriends.
“Hello.” His voice boomed through the line, deep and husky, and an answering zing shot through her stomach.
She sat up. Okay, count that under weird.
“Hi.” She grimaced, and then amended her greeting. “Good morning. Am I speaking with Lord McKenzie?”
“The one and only, sweetheart.”
She frowned. Sweetheart? Oh, she’d going to hate this guy after the phone call, never mind the interview.
“Hi, Lord, uh, Mr. McKenzie, my name is Chantelle Sah. I’m—”
“Hello, Chantelle. What can I do you for?”
His voice possessed a rich timbre, which coupled with his choice of words, evoked images of two bodies intertwined in passionate encounters. An unexpected thrill galloped up her spine. Whoa, what the hell was that? She forced a smile, taking a second to compose herself. Clearly, her self-imposed celibacy could use some reinforcement.
“You could grant me an interview.” Good girl. Keep your mind on business.
“Did I win something?”
“Well, you were voted most eligible bachelor by readers of Odopa magazine.”
He gave a soft melodious laugh. “I hate that.”
She frowned, taken aback. “You – pardon?”
“Do you know how much trouble you put me in by naming me most eligible bachelor?”
If by “trouble” he meant more girls than he could bed, then yes, she knew. Well, she could only guess.
“Maybe you can clarify things in the interview.”
Silence followed as if he were contemplating her offer. “Tell me, Chantelle Sah, are you single?”
“Yes, but I don’t—” Why on earth would she say yes? An embarrassing warmth crept over her cheeks. Thank goodness this conversation wasn’t face-to-face. A flustered image wouldn’t make a good first impression. She should have rehearsed this call. Now she’d given him an upper hand, no matter how remote.
“Great. Why don’t you escort me to Afrodite tonight?”
She frowned. “The nightclub?”
He chuckled. “Yes, the nightclub. I’m having a Valentine’s party there. Surely, you must have heard.”
Yes, she’d heard. For weeks now, Lord McKenzie’s VIP party had dominated both traditional and social media. While technically open to the public, the venue—one of the most exclusive nightclubs in the city—and the ticket price restricted the party to the crème de la crème.
She didn’t want a date. Particularly not tonight. However, if he was willing to grant her an audience, what choice did she have? She couldn’t let the opportunity slip through her fingers.
“Do you want the interview?” His matter-of-fact tone made it clear she occupied the beggar’s seat in this discussion.
“Of course, I do.”
“Excellent.” She could hear a smile in his voice. “Bring a recorder, and you can have your interview after the party. I hope you like to dance.”
“No, I don’t dance.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll teach you.”
She bit back a curse. She’d lost complete control of this conversation. Mechanically, she found herself agreeing to meet him at the party, anxious to secure her interview before Celeb beat her to it. Randy wouldn’t forgive her for it. She wouldn’t forgive herself either.
“Oh, by the way, if you’re available and looking, wear red. Otherwise, the dress code is white.”
With those parting words, he ended the call.
She stared at her phone screen, unable to believe she’d allowed him to dominate the conversation. Now she’d talked herself into the Valentine’s Day pit of hell. She couldn’t decide whom to blame more: Dufie, for upsetting her by digging up the past, or Randy, for rattling her with his thinly veiled threat. Usually she could muster enough resolve to sidestep emotional traps like those. However, today being Valentine’s Day, emotionally, she was at her weakest.